Tuesday, March 27, 2012

58 FOLD MINISTRY?

“Do you believe in the Five Fold Ministry?”


Someone asked me this very question the other day, and after a lot of thought and research I’ve finally got my answer – “No. I don’t.”

Perhaps it would help if I were to clarify what I mean? First of all, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Five Fold Ministry is a concept taken from one single passage in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:11-13) which says:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Notice that there are five gifts mentioned here. They are Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers, and for those who swear by the Five Fold Ministry model, this list represents both a hierarchy of giftings, and an essential list of gifts that must be present in every church for health and growth.

First, let me explain why I reject the Five Fold concept. It’s because Paul himself gives us other lists of giftings elsewhere in his epistles and those other lists are slightly longer, and in a different order, than the one he gives here in Ephesians.

Before we look at those other two, let’s go ahead and say that this fact alone should tell us that Paul didn’t intend for his list in Ephesians to be taken as the only model for church dynamics. If he gave other church members in other cities a different list, then that means he wasn’t trying to be dogmatic about this, and that he was speaking loosely about the various gifts that God releases into the Body of Christ for growth, strength, and life.

Got it? Ok, now let’s look at those other two lists, starting with the one in 1 Corinthians 12, verse 28 where Paul says:

“And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”

So, even though Paul starts out the same in Corinthians as he does in Ephesians – with Apostles and Prophets – he strangely promotes Teachers to third place (up from last place in our Ephesian list. Way to go Teachers!), and then introduces Miracle Workers, Healers, Helpers, Guidance (or Wisdom) and Tongues. This might be called the Eight Fold Ministry since here Paul expands the length of his list by three.

Notice that, if we were ignorant of the other lists, the one in Ephesians and the one in Romans (which we’ll look at in a second), we could easily conclude that God’s plan is all about this (and only this) order of gifts to lead the church. We might conclude from this list that Pastors and Evangelists are lower class citizens in the church since they’re not mentioned at all. We could also easily make a case that Paul’s list is hierarchical since he enumerates these by saying, “First of all…second….third…” and so on. This clearly indicates that the first ones are more important and the last ones are less important. Right? Wrong. Why? Because Paul said something different to the church in Ephesus and in Rome. And, since his order in those other cases was different, we can safely assume that when Paul says “First of all apostles…” he’s talking chronologically and not hierarchically. The Apostles were the first ones to be “sent out” by Jesus and once the Gospel was preached and people responded, they needed to have others who could prophesy and teach, and serve, etc.

But wait, we’re not done. Let’s look now at Paul’s essential list of gifts in Romans 12. It goes like this:

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

(v. 4-8)

Personally, I like this list a lot more than the other two. This Seven Fold Ministry of God drops leadership to the very bottom, just ahead of showing mercy, and it moves service, teaching and encouragement to the top. That’s my kind of list.

But, again, the Christians in Rome could easily have taken this list and deduced from it that Apostles, Evangelists and Pastors are unnecessary in the Church, and that what really counts is Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Encouragement, Giving, Leadership and Mercy. But, again, they would be wrong about that.

What’s fascinating to me is that, while we have all three of these epistles in front of us and they didn’t, our tendency is to take one of those lists as authoritative while ignoring the other two. There is no evidence that the churches in Ephesus, Rome or Corinth took Paul’s instructions in this manner to be exhaustive and exclusive of the others.

The main thing I believe we can learn from all of this is that Jesus was serious when he said that we are all brothers and sisters and that none of us was meant to play the Father, or the Ruler over anyone else. (See Matthew 23:9) The goal in the Body of Christ is that we are all members of one another, and that no one person is given the preeminence over the rest of us.

Having said all of this, let me clarify that yes, I do believe that there are those today who are “sent ones” (or “Apostles”) in the church today. Their function is to go out and preach the Gospel, plant churches, recognize gifts in the Body, and move on when needed to plant more churches. I also believe that there are those in the church today with the gifts of prophecy, and tongues, and teaching, and mercy, and giving, and all those many, many other gifts.

What I reject is the idea that there are only five main gifts in the church today, or that these five should be exalted above all the other gifts mentioned in the New Testament as if they are more special or more necessary or more crucial than any of the others.

At face value, the message of the New Testament is that you matter. Your gift – whatever it is – is necessary. You are important. You have something the rest of us need. We have something that you need. We need one another to grow and to thrive.

As Paul says in each of these passages, there are many gifts, and they are all given by the One Spirit, and we are all members of each other. Our gifts are not for us, they are not about us, they are about one another and the purpose of these gifts is to be a blessing to everyone else and to exalt them, not ourselves.

So, I’m not sure about you, but since there are something like 58 different spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible, I’m a big fan of the Fifty-Eight Fold Ministry of God.

How about you?

-kg

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guest Post: Wendy Giles



Lessons Learned from Tiger

 
We have a cat named Tiger who must have gotten into a fight. On a Sunday afternoon we realized he had a huge, gaping wound, and we were concerned that it needed immediate medical attention. It's important to note that this is not an indoor cat. His mother was abandoned when she was quite young, and pregnant. She had her kittens in our neighbors yard, but brought them to our yard as our neighbors have a sprinkler system which kept getting them wet. At any rate, Tiger is her kitten, and although he has been showered with love and attention from our boys since he was about six weeks old, he is still mostly feral. We had him neutered and we love him and feed him, so in that sense he is our cat.

 
We took Tiger to the hospital and found out he needed surgery, and two weeks of indoor living. This has been hard on him- and us as well. I felt like God wanted me to take note of a few things that I was witnessing about Tiger's behavior because the Lord was wanting me to see some insights into either myself or my relationships with others. At first I felt like I needed to go point by point and explain each one, but I think I'll leave it open to the reader's consideration. The main points that make this understandable is that Tiger must wear a cone. We had to clean his drains twice a day to prevent infection, and he had to be shut in the bathroom at night to keep him from getting into things in the house or failing to use the litter box. Also, because of his strange smell and appearance, his own mother has not recognized him yet as her own son, and continues to hiss at him- very sad!

 

 
Lesson I've learned from Tiger:

  • Feeling trapped can make you destructive.
  • Sometimes help can look a lot like punishment.
  • We can mistake family for strangers because of smell/appearance.
  • It's hard to eat and drink on your own when you're wearing the "cone of shame".
  • That's when you step in and feed them by hand.
  • Medicine that's hidden in food goes down more easily.
  • The treatment against infection is sometimes painful.
  • The one stuck outside wants desperately to be inside. The one inside desperately wants to be outside.
  • We can't always see the big picture.
  • Two weeks seems like an eternity.
  • It's awful to not be able to scratch your own itch, and such a relief when someone comes to help.
  • It's easier when you don't fight it.
  • Wounds require a great deal of care to heal properly.
  • Fighting can be quite costly and painful.
 
I have to admit that I have been reminded of a couple other things which are much more touching and beautiful:

 
  • God didn't set a limit on how much He was willing to pay for my sake. 
  • He understands the groaning of my heart which are much too deep for words. 
  • He is patient and attentive to detail in caring for my needs which continue throughout my entire life, and not just two weeks.
  • He is compassionate even when I am frustrating.

 
I know this list could go on a lot longer, but I will end it for now. I'm sure many others have been put in similar situations, and also have learned valuable lessons.

Wendy

 
**

 

 

 

Monday, March 19, 2012

What Should We Believe About Hell?

Now that the smoke has largely cleared on Rob Bell's "Love Wins" book and most of the credible rebuttals and responses have long since fell off the Top 10 List of Christian bestsellers, I wanted to share my thoughts on this controversial topic.

Before I get into this one please let me say that this is still an in-progress study for me. My views are not set in stone, but this is where I've landed as of now, based on my studies. These studies have included reading the words of Jesus on the topic of hell, or gehenna, listening to various Bible teachers on the subject, and reading both Bell's "Love Wins" and Francis Chan's response, "Erasing Hell".

 For me, Bell's book was anything but persuasive, and Chan's book was only a re-statement of the traditional view of eternal suffering without any real, hard look at the other two competing views of hell, namely Annihilationism and Universalism.

Honestly, I much prefer the ministry and teaching of Chan to that of Bell, so my opinion of their books isn't reflective of my like or dislike of their individual ministries. I'm simply commenting on my assessment of their books on this subject.

Before I get into this I should probably define what the three main views of Hell are for those who aren't familiar:

Eternal Suffering is the most popular view in the Christian church today, although as we shall see this is a fairly recent development. It was once the minority view in the early church but has risen to prominence in the last few hundred years or so. This view is that those who reject Christ will suffer an eternal punishment of extreme anguish and torture forever and ever without end.

Annihiliationism is the view that unrepentant souls are destroyed forever after a period of suffering.

Universalism is the view that those who reject Christ as Lord will suffer for a period of time and then be offered an opportunity to repent and turn to Christ, thus being redeemed and brought into the Kingdom of God.

I must point out that, although it may seem so, this theory of Universalism is not the same as the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. As I understand it, Purgatory is where only certain people go who are not good enough to be saved, but not evil enough to suffer forever. Catholics do also believe that some go to an eternal place of torment. Those who do not either go to Hell, or Heaven, must suffer a time in Purgatory and are then allowed to enter Heaven.

To study this topic you must only look at the New Testament writings. Why? Because the Old Testament scriptures are strangely silent on the topic of where we go after we die. David and the other Hebrew writers refer to "going down to the pit" or "the grave" but nothing is said about fire, or torment, or suffering forever and ever...or at all, really.

While we can probably wonder about why this is, the fact remains that Jesus and the Apostles give us our only clues about what happens to those who reject Christ after they die. So, let's look at what the New Testament tells us.

If we look at what Jesus taught about Hell, or Gehenna, (the term Jesus actually uses when He speaks of the place that people go if they do not accept Him as Messiah), we see that in every case the language that Jesus uses has to do with destruction of the soul, not eternal suffering without end.

Yes, there are a handful of verses that speak of "everlasting fire" or "everlasting torment" and Jesus talks about "fire that is not quenched" and "the worm that does not die", but these are only a handful (and we will address these in a moment). The majority of verses do not speak of an eternal suffering but instead about destruction, perishing, and death.

In the places where Jesus does speak of an eternal duration of hell, the eternal quality is placed on the fire, or the smoke, or the worms, not on the torment, and not on the souls of the people who are suffering.

The view of eternal suffering is predicated on an assumption which I believe is scripturally unsound; the idea that the human soul is eternal.

You and I have always heard it said that "every soul is immortal, the only question is where you spend eternity." But, does the Scripture teach us that those outside of Christ will live forever? No. I can find no scriptures anywhere that affirm the eternal quality of the human soul per se, without Christ.

Starting in Genesis, the reason that God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden is why? "Lest they eat of the Tree of Life and live forever." (Genesis 3:22)

And what was their punishment for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? "You shall surely die" (Genesis 3:2)

So, if death was the punishment for their sin, and if they were prevented from eating from the Tree of Life because to do so would be to "live forever", then are human souls inherently eternal?

No.

This is also why Paul and the other Apostles go on and on about how "our life is hidden in Christ" and "when Christ, who is your life, appears, you will appear with him also." (Colossians 3: 3-4)

Jesus even tells us that if we come to Him we will have life, but if we do not come to Him we do not have life. (John 5:40; 10:10; etc.)

So, only those of us who are in Christ have life, and without Christ we have no life beyond this one.

However, Jesus does teach that those who reject Him as Lord will suffer in Gehenna, which we translate as "Hell" but that His contemporary hearers would have understood as the garbage dump outside the city gates.  At best, Jesus is using this constantly burning trash heap as a metaphor for what will happen to those who die without His life in them.

At the resurrection, when Christ returns, both the righteous and the unrighteous will be raised from the dead to face the Judgment seat of Christ. Those who love Christ and who have followed Him will be raised to live forever with Him in the New Heaven and the New Earth. But those who do not belong to Christ will be raised for...what?

This is where it gets tricky.

Jesus warns that it will be a place of torment, but we do not know for how long. While Jesus says that the fire will be eternal, we are not told that the people, or the suffering will be eternal.


Jesus tells us that in Gehenna there will be weeping (Matt 8:12), wailing (Matt 13:42), gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:50), darkness (Matt 25:30), flames (Luke 16:24), torments (Luke 16:23), and "everlasting fire". (Matt 25:41)

As scary as this may be, and Jesus did emphasize that this was a fate to avoid at all costs, it does not specifically teach us that Hell is about suffering eternally without end.

We have to balance these statements with verses where Jesus warns us to fear God who:


"...can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

One thing I came across that really opened my eyes on this subject was a reference in the New Schaff-Herzog Christian Encyclopedia which revealed something fascinating:  




"The earliest system of Universalistic theology was by Clement of Alexandria who was the head of the theological school in that city until 202 A.D. His successor in the school was the great Origen, the most distinguished advocate of this doctrine in all time." (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 2)


"In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six known theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked." (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 3)

Download the PDF of this page here>

[The info is at the bottom, left corner of the text.]

Also, when Augustine refuted Universalism in his day he freely admitted that it was the view of a majority of Christians in the Christian Church.

So, what are we to make of this? If it seems that the Old Testament scriptures hardly mentions the topic, and if Jesus speaks mainly of the "death" (perishing, destruction, etc.) of the unrepentant sinner, and if the early Church had no grid for the concept of eternal suffering, and if both the Old and the New Testament Scriptures affirm that only those in Christ have eternal life, then the views of Annhilationism and Universalism (after a period of suffering/punishment) seem to be much more in line with the whole of Scripture. 

At the very least, all of these facts certainly make the commonly held doctrine of Eternal Suffering seem very weak in comparison.


I'd love to know your thoughts on the subject. Please post your comments below.

-kg
**
WANT TO STUDY MORE?
For more on this topic I recommend part two of Steve Gregg's excellent series: "Three Views of Hell" on MP3 here>



Friday, March 16, 2012

Learning To Be Loved

My friend Thomas Nixon once said something that I will never forget. He said that his house church family came together to discover how to love God and how to love one another. I remember nodding as he said that, not realizing that he was about to add something so intuitive and yet so unexpected to my mind at the time. He went on to say that they also came together to learn how to be loved by God, and how to be loved by one another.

The simplicity of that statement stunned me a bit. Of course, I thought, if you’re in a room full of people who are committed to loving everyone else, you’ll have to accommodate them by allowing them to actually love you. And if you’re honestly trying to learn how to love God, you’ll have to actually begin by learning how to let God love you.

The questions that began to whisper through my heart as I pondered my friend’s words were relentless. “How can I receive love from others like this?”, “What’s holding me back from receiving God’s love in my own heart?”, and most profoundly, “How could I possibly have missed such a simple truth?”

That conversation was years ago now. I’m still trying to answer those questions in my heart. If anything, those whispers have crescendoed into roars like a waterfall in my ears. “How do I learn to be loved?”

I have to admit, this is something I struggle with. Yes, I know in my mind that Jesus loves me, and I have experienced the love of God in my life many times before, but I’m learning lately that I have yet to really learn how to fully receive God’s love the way He intends for me to.

Why is it hard for me to accept God’s amazing love? I think it's partly because I struggle with pride. One of the ways I try to manage my pride is to avoid anything that is about "me" or tends to exalt my ego in any way. Somehow the idea of embracing the notion that Jesus is totally in love with me feels like a threat to my meager humility. It’s almost as if receiving His love would fill me with pride somehow. I don't know how to fully explain it, but it’s there.

At the same time, I am also constantly aware that I do not deserve His love, so to fully embrace His outrageous love for me is like denying that I am wretched, sinful, and unlovable.

So, because of my love for myself, and my hatred of myself, I am kept from fully receiving the exquisite love of God. I am boxed in on both sides by selfish pride and by awareness of my own sin. How can I receive the awesome love of a Holy God when I am too in love with myself, or too ashamed of my own unworthiness to let Him love me?

Intellectually, of course, I know all the answers for this. If I were counseling someone else I would know exactly which verses to quote, what illustrations to use to counter these ideas, but in practice, in my own heart, these do not erase the reality of my struggle.

I’ve preached sermons on this topic, I’ve memorized verses on the love of God, I know in my mind that all of these thoughts and attitudes are foolish and unnecessary, but none of that changes the fact: A large portion of my heart is still untouched by the love of God.

If you’re in the same boat with me then we are the people that Paul the Apostle is praying for in Ephesians chapter 3 when he says:

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (v. 17-19)

What Paul says is that our ability to be “rooted and established in love” can only be accomplished if we receive “power” from God to do so. God’s power must be unleashed upon us to enable us to “know this love that surpasses knowledge”.

I love that Paul uses that phrase to describe the love of God - “love that surpasses knowledge” because what he’s emphasizing to us is that the love of God isn’t accessible via language, or teaching, or intelligence, or any other form of human knowledge. How could you possibly know something that surpasses knowledge? Even if you had all the knowledge in the Universe you would still not be capable of knowing this astounding love of God. Why? Because the love of God surpasses knowledge. It cannot be found in this way. It is too large for any human brain to grasp. Only the human heart can ever hope to receive it, and only then if it is apprehended by the impulse of God’s might power working in us.

My prayer for myself, and for you as well if you find yourself in this same place, is exactly what Paul says here. I pray that we might all have power to grasp how infinitely wide and eternally high and endlessly deep is the transformational love of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

True, there may be barriers in my own heart that I know must be broken down before I can finally receive His amazing love. But, it's good to know that Jesus has His sights set on destroying these barriers. Only He can do this work in my heart. I long for Him to crash through those two strongholds of mind and heart. I can't wait for that day to come.

-kg

SHANE CRASH: FIGHTING FOR PEACE



Keith Giles: Shane, catch me up on your bio. Who are you?

Shane Crash: I'm Shane Crash. I write zines and short stories.

KG: Is there a website where people can read your zines or short stories?

SC: You can read short writings and purchase zines at http://www.shanecrash.com/. I'm putting out my first novel on June 1st, through Civitas Press.

KG: What's it called? What is it about?

SC: It's called "Forest Life". It follows a character who retreats from society and his struggle to sustain the will to live.

KG: Sounds interesting. What else do you do with your time?

SC: I work with the homeless and teach on nonviolence.

KG: What kind of work do you do with the homeless?

SC: I'm volunteering at the Portland Rescue Mission and I walk the streets of Portland at night providing clothing, toiletries and food to the homeless people I meet.

KG: So, explain where and how do you teach nonviolence?

SC: I normally submit essays on my website at shanecrash.com, and I also teach on it in my zine "Lost Thoughts" which is available in my web store.

KG: What are your views on nonviolence?

SC: The New Testament commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9).

Jesus said, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”(Mt 5:39). He also said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:27-28).

I believe that only good can overcome evil and that to combat evil we must love and serve our enemies in the same manner that Christ died for those who persecuted him.

Violence is an unending cycle and is continually perpetuated by nationalistic conditioning in the form of redemptive violence and fear mongering. The whole point of Jesus’ teaching is to tell disciples that their attitude toward “enemies” should be radically different from others. “If you do good to those who do good to you,” Jesus added, “what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Lk 6:32).

Everybody instinctively hates those who hate them and believes they are justified killing people who might kill them or their loved ones. In contrast to this, Jesus is saying: “Be radically different.” Like MLK, I maintain that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolence.

KG: What else do you write about?

SC: I generally write on social issues using satire. I prefer the short story format. Right now I'm focusing on storytelling and my own experience as a backpacker.

KG: Let's talk about that. What sort of experience have you had as a backpacker? Did you travel the US or Europe as a hitchhiker? Why did you do that? What did you learn?

SC: When I was twenty years old I was a wealthy salesman at a growing company. I was the lead salesman in my department making a large amount of money. I suffered through a personal tragedy and could no longer carry on living a meaningless existence so I sold all of my possessions, paid out the lease on my apartment and traveled the United States and the Bahamas as a backpacker.

Over and over I scoured the dark­est, most des­per­ate parts of Kansas City, of Brook­lyn, Los Ange­les and almost every major city in the continental US. I observed ran­dom acts of violence. I watched hook­ers get into cars with strangers and I lis­tened to grown men sob alone in the alleys at night because they had nowhere to go.

I hit the road looking for something that I couldn't quite put my finger on so for a while I lived alone in a cabin on Kentucky Lake. I was determined to try and understand life. When I couldn't reconcile the Christian teachings of my youth with the futility of living I tried to kill myself by smashing my car into a median on a highway in Missouri. That didn't work out so I continued searching and drank heavily for the next two years. I was finally able to reconcile the Jesus who hung out with screwed up sinners while speaking with some homeless friends one night in Houston, Texas. Eventually I became content with living and I curved my frustrations with faith and existence to try and benefit others who are enduring similar trials. Now I work with the homeless as much as I can and I advocate for nonviolence.

KG: You've said before that you felt compelled to write about this subject and to examine the problem of suicide and suffering without religious language or faith in the equation. Why did you feel it was important to examine this problem "without religious language"?

SC:I wanted to write an honest novel and frankly I don't feel comfortable using religious language. I'm a human and my struggles have always been very human struggles. I'd rather write an honest, gritty and human novel than sacrifice my intellectual integrity for Christian Catch Phrases.

KG: How is it different from your other projects?

SC: It's my first concise novel. In the past I've only put out punk zines and short stories.

KG: What are your main passions? What is it you most often find yourself writing about?

SC: I'm very passionate about nonviolence and religion/anthropology and the correlation between the two, especially regarding religious culture and the effect it has on humanity. I like to examine the ambiguity of religion in humanity, the way that it brings security to some minds and suffering to others.

KG: Can you explain how religious culture effects humanity. What do you mean by that exactly?

SC: I've always been frustrated that the Christian elite employ gimmicks and ploys to reel in the thoughtless and naive through politics and televangelism, etc. I am frustrated because Christ is very clear that his followers are to practice power UNDER others rather than power over others, meaning Christians should self-sacrificially serve their neighbors and enemies without condition.


KG: I wonder if you could elaborate a bit on what you mean by the phrase "ambiguity of religion in humanity"? How and why does it bring "suffering" and "security"?

SC: Some people find comfort in the ideas of Heaven and Hell, feeling that their beliefs guarantee them eternal paradise and others eternal damnation. Others like myself are nearly driven to madness and inconsolable grief by the fear that people are punished eternally for getting things wrong in this short life. Given the millions of variables that can determine a person's belief or lack thereof. It's hard to reconcile a loving God with the mainstream narrative within Christianity.

KG: So, what are your views on Hell? Are they driven more by a rejection of God's character as one who punishes evil in this way? Or do you base your view of the afterlife on scriptural insight? Or a little of both?

SC: My study of theology has led me to lean toward the annihilationist view. Annihilationism is the view that whoever and whatever cannot be redeemed by God is ultimately put out of existence. That view seems to be the most consistent with scripture and with the character of God revealed in Christ. Of course, I'm still working my ideas on this subject out but I completely reject the traditional view of Hell.

KG: I’m leaning towards either annihilationism or redemptive punishment (where unrepentant sinners are punished up to a point and then given an opportunity to repent and turn to Christ after a set time).

I’m still researching the topic at the moment, but after reading Rob Bell’s book (Love Wins) and then reading Francis Chan’s rebuttal (Erasing Hell), and re-reading the words of Jesus on the subject a bit more closely I began to doubt the view of eternal suffering. Then, I discovered that the majority of New Testament Christians never believed in eternal suffering either. The two dominant views, for several hundred years, were annihilationism and limited suffering, or redemptive suffering. The view we all hold today as being “orthodox” (eternal hell) was the minority, or “unorthodox” view for a very long time. I’ll probably have to write a blog series on the topic soon, but that’s another issue.

Why don’t you explain the concept and inspiration behind your Pacifist Army idea?

SC: I'm part of a small group called Pacifist Fight Club. I had the idea to foster a community devoted to nonviolence and enemy-love similar to Pacifist Fight Club. The idea is to periodically raise funds for Christian Peacemaker Teams.

KG: Yes, I started Pacifist Fight Club earlier this year and it was great to have your support as we blogged and Tweeted leading up to that first event.

So, is Pacifist Army an online community, or is it a local gathering of people in your geographic area? What sorts of things to do you do? What Christian Peacemaker Teams are you raising funds for? Why do they need money? What do they do with it?

SC: Pacifist Army is a community of people who discuss and promote nonviolence. I'll be giving small talks regarding nonviolence on my upcoming book tours. I'll also have guest speakers at certain dates. We sell Pacifist Army merch, much the same way that a band would, but the funds all go to Christian Peacemaker Teams. CPT places teams at the invitation of local peacemaking communities that are confronting situations of lethal conflict. These teams seek to follow God's Spirit as it works through local peacemakers who risk injury and death by waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression. The money is used for travel, subsistence stipends, and communications equipment.

KG: So, what are you currently working on or writing about?

SC: I'm currently documenting my experiences wandering through the streets of Portland at night and my encounters with the homeless. I feel most comfortable outdoors with rubbertramps and homeless folks.

KG: Will this be your next book? Or are you sharing these writings on your blog?

SC: I'm sharing these writings on my blog periodically. It's sort of an exercise to pan out my next project, whatever that may be.

KG: One last question, Will we see you at the next Pacifist Fight Club on May 5th in Irvine, California? It would be great to have you join us since our topic is War.

SC: I will be there. I've marked it on my calendar.

KG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Shane. I'm looking forward to your book and I wish you all the best with the Pacifist Army.

SC: Thank you sir.





Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Excuse Me While I Single-Handedly Neutralize Al-Qaeda

A repost of Brant Hansen's classic article for your enjoyment:

Alan Hirsch, in his book (The Forgotten Ways), points out that Al-Qaeda is almost impossible to stop. This is, in large part, due to the way its message works, and the way the work gets carried out. And he's absolutely right.


So, in the service of national defense, I propose the following, in order to effectively neutralize the movement. Let's get Al-Qaeda to...

1) Complexify the message

Right now, it's so simple, it can pass from one to the next, and be easily grasped by the uneducated, the young -- everyone. This is dangerous, because it's highly contagious, and people on the street feel capable of enlisting others in the cause.

2) Construct a less "flat", more hierarchical structure

Currently, small, underground groups can move nimbly and autonomously, complicating efforts to thwart them. A more regimented, stratified approach, where some members are left thinking, "I can't know enough to do anything" would bring the movement to a halt.

3) Foster "expert" culture, and barriers to entry to the expert class

Promote the idea that the message is not only highly complex, but only some can truly understand it. Construct extensive barriers to entry to the presumed expert class. Promote idea that cells lacking a certified member of expert class, it is not equipped to be activated.

4) Focus on knowledge, rather than doing

Complexification and expert-class development will make cells spend immense amounts of time studying the work, even debating theories of the work, rather than doing it. Better yet...

5) Equate STUDYING the work with the work itself

The cells are called to ACT, of course. But if we can convince operatives that the work, itself, is in trying to understand the complexity of the work? They'll be effectively neutered. We need to get them to spend large amounts of time in study, gathering to study, believing they don't know enough, hiring new experts to teach them again and again, and attending teaching events.

They'll actually believe they're doing their work when they attend events held by experts. This will render the cell, and the whole movement, harmless! Convince them that the most radicalized, militant among them are merely called to bring other non-activated members to the cell events.

6) Sabotage cell multiplication

VERY important! Cells that operate under simple principles, with motivated operatives, devoted to multiplication? Very, very dangerous, fast-growing, and pop-culture endangering. We must stop this in its tracks, and this is done in multiple ways:

A) Foster egos and small-time celebrity. By convincing operatives to set up individual fiefdoms, fewer autonomous cells will be activated. Rather, the emphasis will be on building larger individual cells with numerous unactivated members.

B) Make the basic structure highly difficult to replicate. Al-Qaeda cells currently are, by necessity, simply-structured and easily replicated. Propagate idea that for cells to begin, planning, experts and capital must be simultaneously accumulated. Expert motivational speakers will be necessary, plus paid staff with highly specific training and talents. Operatives will see massively "successful" large cells, and attempt to duplicate them, with very limited success because of the huge inputs required. This will greatly inhibit growth.

C) Convince philosophically-aligned, but non-active, members to choose from among most entertaining, high quality, cells that offer services for them. Not only will this engender a harmless, internal focus, it will require IMMENSE amounts of resources and energy.

7) Make operatives really, really busy.

Replace simple, animating mission with lengthy lists, charts, and programs for cell maintanance. Convince them that this institutional maintenance is, actually, the mission, itself.

This will leave them will no actual time for conducting actual mission.

8) Get Al-Qaeda to seek governmental approval.

Offer tax incentives if necessary. The larger cells, requiring large edifices, will also require tremendous amounts of capital. This will also allow a measure of control, to threaten the cell's tax status, thereby threatening funds for internal programs, when necessary.

Better: They'll consider actual operational cells that exist without this governmental approval to be, themselves, invalid!

9) Co-opt Al-Qaeda with the larger culture.

Once members are convinced that cell maintenance and study are actually their "mission", the rest of their lives can be harmlessly integrated with the culture at large. They'll be indistinguishable from non-members, and, because of their new understanding of "mission", effectively equivalent to non-members.

10) Convince members to wear Al-Qaeda t-shirts with funny sayings and stuff.

Mission accomplished.

It'll work to thwart an evil message. It even works with the good ones.

-Brant Hansen

**
VISIT BRANT'S BLOG>
If you like this, you'll love being part of the conversation at Momentum 2012 on March 30 and 31.
Find out more at House2House.com>

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review of "This Is My Body" from Middle Eastern Church-Planter


I received this email review of my book the other day. This brother asked that I remove his last name and the name of the nations where he is serving since his life, and the work they are doing there, might be jeopardized. Here's the email review published with permission and edits:

Dear Mr Giles,

Wow.  I was on an "exam" night for my English classes [country name removed], and was able to read your book during their test taking.  

Wow. Thank you for the words.  I have been re-reading "Reimagining Church" from Viola, and had forgotten I had your book on my kindle.  Right now we have begun to help a small house group in our country.  The large "institutional" group is not only an extreme example of institutional, but also is the "legal" authority for the country.  This tends to extreme control and excess.  This group started not as a "leaving" but as a group from another country that moved here and started something new.  

As someone who has worked for the past few years in the institutional church here in [country name removed] and in [another middle eastern nation], I have become the "resident" theologian of the group.  

As we began to get involved in leadership, I have had thoughts of exploring ordination (I'm a youth worker for the past 20 years) and was trying to understand how to best serve this community of people.

Having read your book and Viola's book, I am at peace for the first time in a couple of weeks.  No longer do I feel the burden to become something that I didn't think was necessary, but I also feel much more confident in explaining an alternate way to explore our "church" life.  I was very impressed with your story and your journey.  Thank you for writing this book and for allowing it to be made available for the kindle.

Blessings to you and your community.

Todd [Last name removed by request]


Sunday, March 11, 2012

INTERVIEW: ROSS ROHDE


I've been reading through Ross Rohde's excellent book, Viral Jesus, right now and at the end of this month I will join Ross and a few other local organic church practitioners at Momentum 2012. Here's our recent conversation about his book, what it means for the church, and a little of what we can expect when we get together at Momentum.
*

Keith Giles: What was it that inspired you to write this book?

Ross Rohde: It was more of a process than a moment of inspiration. When I was in Spain the Lord actually directed me to the House Church movement. For the first time in my life I actually heard God speak to me, very specifically, and as a Baptist that was pretty frightening. The Lord said, “I want you to pray for 5 couples to start the house church movement in Spain” – and that was a direct quote. So, I didn’t know what to do with that, but I started praying. I didn’t tell anyone else about this other than my wife.

So, in a place where nobody else was talking about house church (in Spain) and the church itself was pretty weak, something like point 2 percent of Spain’s population is Evangelical, we started praying for God to bring us people to help start house churches. In a place where nobody was even talking or thinking about Evangelical church, we began praying and God started bringing people to us supernaturally, and not just 5 people but 11 people in about three month’s time – out of nowhere.

That was my introduction to a supernatural God.

So, a number of things happened. I got in touch with Wolfgang Simson and I started studying the house church movement. I began to realize that when I read about house church in India, China and even Switzerland it wasn’t just this technique, it was God at work. There was supernatural power involved and as someone who was raised in a context where, to be frank, I was trained to disdain and fear and to mock supernatural power and then once I began to experience it I didn’t know what to do.

In order to discipline myself to study I got involved with a doctoral program. I used that as a way of focusing my thought and I started studying house church and this is the book that came out of all that.

KG: I think you and I are on the same page. I also came from a Baptist background and then my wife and I got involved in the Vineyard movement about 15 years ago and started experiencing more supernatural things like dreams and visions and words of knowledge and healing and all of that. Then, of course, I ended up starting a house church in my home through a series of events where God spoke to me. I think we’re similar in that regard.

So, let me ask you to elaborate, when you say you studied house church, you mean more than simply people meeting in a home to listen to a sermon or a bible study. Explain what you mean when you say, “house church” because I think it’s about more than where we meet, right?

RR: For so long the church has been self-focused, and that’s been a long history, a long process over time, way beyond the middle ages even, the church became narcissistic. Kind of like a bride who looks in the mirror and is stunned by her own beauty and is constantly primping her hair so that she forgets about her fiancĂ©.
House Church – real house church – I’m not talking about getting a bunch of people together in a house – house church is Jesus-focused. It’s people getting together in the presence of the Master to hear what He has to say to them, hear what He wants to do for them, hear what He wants them to do, and then those people go and do whatever He says out of absolute devotion and love. That’s what I mean by house church. It is so Christ centered, and in essence it is the people of God meeting with King Jesus and doing what He says because they love Him, and allowing Him – because He’s so desperately in love with us – to minister to us.

KG: Absolutely! It’s doing more than paying lip service to the idea that Jesus is the Head of the Church.

RR: Yeah, and as you know in my book, the Lordship of Jesus is a major issue. That has to be more than doctrine. We have a huge weakness in the Western Church, and particularly in the American Church. We are so indoctrinated – and I’m not against good doctrine, I think good doctrine is important – but when we look at it from a Hebrew mindset in Scripture, instead of a Greek mindset which is an adulteration of Christianity, it’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you live.

KG: Amen!

RR: And if Jesus is your Lord then you have to do what He says, not just say, ‘I agree with this idea that Jesus is the King of the Universe’ – and that’s lovely, but how does it show?

KG: Exactly, Ross. I’ve been observing this and blogging about this for several years now. There’s a radical difference between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy. I think the Church in America has majored on having all the right beliefs. We’ve got our doctrine lined up and we believe the right things and we can debate it and study it and we have the study of apologetics and we have seminars and books and Sunday School classes to drill everyone on Orthodoxy – and not that any of that is bad in itself – but we’re so good at that and so bad at putting all of that into practice. Which, actually, when you study Jesus you discover that He seemed to be really, really concerned that people would not only hear His words but then go ahead and put His words into practice. That’s what the parable of the Wise Man building His house on the rock is all about, for instance. Jesus was looking for people who would hear His words and put them into practice (disciples) not people who would hear His words and memorize them (believers).

RR: Right.

KG: Your book is wonderful in that respect. The stories help take this out of the theoretical but helps to demonstrate the “how to” part of it.

RR: That’s what I hoped people would take out of it, but I do want to add a caveat here. You know I’ve always thought that the book of Acts was a collection of the early church’s best stories, and in a certain way my book ends up having some of my friends best stories and my best stories.  The reality is that there’s a lot of grind in there, there’s a lot of disappointment in there, you know, ‘I just blew it but God in His grace has taught me a lesson.” There’s all of that in there. I don’t know how much of that comes through to the reader, but that’s the reality of being in the harvest.

KG: Thank you for saying that. Anytime we write about something or speak on a topic – no matter what the topic is – we always tend to tell the story about the touchdowns, because that’s what everybody wants to hear. We don’t often sit down and say, ‘Let me tell you a beautiful story about the time I completely blew it.’

RR: (laughs) I am so good at fumbling!

KG: Exactly, yeah! I think that’s the truth. The same is true for me. If I was going to tell a story it would be about the two or three times I managed by the Grace of God to get it right, and probably not the times I’ve often blown it. We never want to paint a false picture that touchdowns are what happen every single time we step out to serve.

Maybe it’s self-evident, but I wanted to ask you about what you were hoping to accomplish with this book? What sort of impact are you hoping it has on the church today?

RR: As I said this book was a process and I’ve always been sort of a strategic thinker, and that’s what I’ve done and who I am. I was trying to show the strategic roadblocks – the things we have become used to that have nothing to do with real Christianity – but from a strategic point of view of how this impairs us. But over a five year process of writing the book the Lordship of Jesus and the simplicity of the New Covenant became stronger and stronger. I realized that we in the West – and I include myself in this – we focus on doctrine and we love technique. We think, because of American frontier individualism, that we can figure out how to do it and perfect the techniques – if some expert could just teach us how – we could go out and accomplish the Kingdom. But it’s just utter folly. Jesus never once said – I mean, he demonstrated in Luke 10 – he preached it and demonstrated it – but when he talks about fruit he says, if you want to bear much fruit you have to abide in me. Without me you can’t anything, he says.

We have somehow – because of our American mindset – we’ve convinced ourselves that we can apply our ingenuity to figure it out on our own, and we’re basing this on the fundamental principles of the world. That’s the world, that’s not Jesus.

When I left my culture and came back I was able to see things I couldn’t see before. There are some wonderful things in America, but if we really want to follow Jesus into the harvest we have to be aware of where we limp as well.

We limp in spirituality. That’s our weak link.

Why does the Gospel in China? In India? Are they smarter than we are? I don’t think so. Do they have more resources than we do? I know that’s not true.

But what they do that works is they have a raw dependence on Christ. I know very well that people like the heavenly man, Brother Yun, and others in the house church in China would say, “Get after Jesus.” So, we have got to get a grip, not only on our strengths, but we need to be aware that we are severely impaired.

All that we can do is to get on our knees and come to God and say, “Oh God, I know you’re a gracious God, and I know all you want is for me to get close to you so that’s what I’m going to do. I know that not only as an individual, but in community as well.”

Another weakness is that we’re so individualistic that we don’t understand the power of a focused community that is centered on Jesus Christ.

So, that’s my concern and my passion in Viral Jesus.

KG: I want to ask you kind of a loaded question. You made an observation earlier that Jesus never gave us a three step formula for success. Why do you think that is?

RR: Well, he gave us a pattern, but he gave us a pattern that he has to lead. I have been in a whole series of encountering the ‘man of peace’ situations before and none of them has ever been the same way twice. Not with me or with my friends or any other stories I’ve heard. That’s because you have to follow Jesus into this stuff. The pattern is there, but it looks different every time. I think that the answer to your question is that Jesus wants us to be dependent on him – he always has. He wants us to be in deep relationship with him, and looking to him for all the answers. But when we start looking to technique for the answers, you know, like ‘what do you do about kids in the house church?’ as if there’s one answer to that question! We ask, ‘how do we do evangelism’ as if there’s an answer to that question. The answer is, you do what Jesus says. And that sounds simplistic but it’s not, it’s just simple.

KG: Amen. As you point out, Jesus gave us a pattern, but what I find interesting is that we’ve got that pattern backwards. We think that the pattern to plant a church is to first get a ton of money, then assemble a leadership team, and then find a great worship band, and then hire a gifted youth pastor, and on and on. We just segment out everything and to us this is just normal. This is what I did. I responded God’s call on my life and entered the ministry this way because there was an established pattern and we couldn’t imagine any other pattern of doing things.

RR: Absolutely. None of us ever questioned if the Emperor had not clothes on because we were the tailors. All of a sudden someone asks a question and the scales fall off our eyes and we realize that Jesus never did any of this stuff, and he never told anyone to do any of this stuff.

Even when we start with Luke 10 and we want to find the man of peace and go out and heal the sick and raise the dead, that’s still not where Jesus starts. Jesus starts by saying, “Hey, I’ve appointed 72 others besides the 12, and I (Jesus) sent them out ahead into every town and place where I was about to go,” and then he told them that the harvest was plentiful and the workers are few and he commanded them to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he was send out more workers into the field.

So Jesus starts with his own authority and prayer, and we start with technique. ..and that’s the burning thing in my heart. That’s the key thing. What’s the key? It’s Jesus! It’s not just a document, it’s a reality. We’re in a covenant relationship with him and he speaks to our heart and mind and because of that we can actually listen to Jesus and obey, and do it in his power. That is just incredible.

I went to a very good evangelical school and got a Bible degree and went back and got a Master’s degree and was a missionary for 25 years and it wasn’t until the last 4 years of that whole process that I even started to hear about the new covenant. I mean, how do you get through Bible college without ever hearing about the new covenant? Yet I heard it said at least once a month, ‘This is the new covenant in my blood’ and it went right over the top of my head. It’s like, how can we be talking about all the details in the Bible and not get down to how my relationship with Jesus works? How can we study the details and miss the main point?

KG: Not only do most Christians grow up not knowing this – not just the people in the pews – but even the leaders in the pulpit have no idea what the new covenant is, or even know what the Gospel that Jesus preached really is?

For me it wasn’t until about 7 years ago when I first understood that the Gospel wasn’t about saying a prayer so we could go to heaven when we die, and I was a pastor and had been for nearly 20 years at the time. It’s shameful that the core of the Gospel and the reality of the new covenant is so lost to most in the Christian church.

RR: My trajectory was slightly different. I wasn’t a pastor but I was a missionary. But, how could I go to a Christian grad school and entirely miss the point? It’s like we’re so focused on dispensationalism that we’re opposed to covenant theology so we can’t talk about covenant. It’s like, what? That doesn’t even make sense. I mean, you can believe dispensationalism if you want, but for crying out loud, the new covenant is right there (in the scriptures). It’s in Hebrews chapter 8 and 10 and in Jeremiah chapter 31, it’s in 2 Corinthians 2 through 7, it’s everywhere!

KG: Yes, it is.

RR: If I could see one thing happen from people reading Viral Jesus it would be this: Not that we all decide to do house church – that would be nice, but all that does it get the barriers out of the way – but what I hope is that we as a people would seek God with our entire heart. Seek Jesus first. Jesus we want you. We don’t want Pentecost to happen because we want to see tongues of fire again. We want you! And if you want to do that again and give us some kind of Pentecost experience that’s fine, so what? We just want you, Jesus.

Even when the Spirit does move, as in China and at Azusa Street, and all the others, it usually only lasts about 20 years before all our bad ecclesiology grinds everything down like sand in the gears. But look at it the other way, if you have all the ecclesiology and you don’t have Jesus you don’t even get 20 years.

KG: Exactly!

RR: That brings me to what I want to speak on at Momentum later this month. I want to talk about practical spirituality.

KG: Sounds exciting. As you’re talking it makes me think of the original title I played with on my latest book which was “Jesus called, he wants his church back.”

RR: (laughs) Why didn’t you use it?

KG: It was a little too flippant, I guess. I was trying to get people to actually read the book and I knew if I had that title only house church people would crack the cover open.

I was just reading yesterday and today about where Jesus speaks to the churches in the book of Revelation and he warns them not to forget about him. Today the church needs that reminder that we’re doing church without Jesus and he’s on the outside knocking and asking if someone might let him back inside.

RR: I don’t want to be critical but the mission I was in, we were so intent on doing ministry through the business paradigm that we really didn’t need Jesus. We had it all figured out. I mean, in 25 years I don’t remember anyone ever saying, “Let’s just stop and see what Jesus wants us to do.” Never once!

KG: But I do understand, from a purely human sense, why asking Jesus to lead us every step of the way eventually got replaced by liturgy and tradition – because trusting Jesus for every single thing is very scary, and it’s really uncomfortable, and it brings a measure of uncertainty that most people really don’t want to deal with on a regular basis. I mean, who could survive in a system where you couldn’t predict at any given moment what was going to happen next? I mean, it’s a scary thing to actually let Jesus hold the steering wheel. He’s an unpredictable guy. You never know where He might take things, and He never seems to do anything the same way twice. So, following Jesus means staying in a constant place of unbalance. It means embracing uncertainty. That’s really terrifying to most people. We want safe, not scary. We want a nice sermon and an uplifting worship song, and we want God to be our co-pilot.

Of course, that’s not what we see in the New Testament. What we see in the first century church is a people so in love with Jesus, so devoted to Him, and excited about what Jesus was doing and where He was leading, that they wouldn’t dare put their hands on it to steer it somewhere else.

RR: Well, it’s a warts and all story, so we see that the Apostles can’t leave Jerusalem in Acts chapter 8 because they were so tied to the Temple. But another way of saying what you’re saying is that we don’t want to give up our agenda. That has been the storyline in the Bible since Genesis chapter 3. Like you said, Jesus just wants His church back.

I was really encouraged as you were talking about that and how we’re all in seasons of ministry. Frank Viola mentioned in his blog this morning, that sometimes we’re in a season of planting or watering or sprouting or plowing. But we want to be in the harvest mode all the time. That’s not how it works.

I know that people are going to read my book and assume that there must be some vast network of hundreds of house churches all over the Bay area (where I live) but it’s not really like that. There’s a bunch of people who love Jesus and are ministering to people, and sometimes they fail, and it’s kind of messy, but the Kingdom goes forward, and that’s what really counts.

KG: Amen. We can’t wrap our egos up in this and define success by how many churches we’ve planted, or how long they stay together, or any of that. Sometimes God’s plan is for a church to come together for a year, maybe less, and for them to be encouraged and blessed and sent back out again. That’s not failure, that’s the Kingdom and it’s Jesus’ church, it’s not mine. It’s His agenda, not mine. We have to let go and let Him do with His Church what He wants.

RR: That goes back to our American success story. We want to be successful and Jesus wants us to die. We just have to give up on being successful and just focus on being obedient, and that is success. We have to get over trying to impress other people or pastors. Who cares about that? All I care about is what Jesus thinks.

KG: We have to redefine success as being obedient to Jesus.  More and more I feel like we need to re-name all of this as Jesus Church rather than Organic Church or House Church or Simple Church. We need to just major on gathering together to see Jesus, hear Jesus, worship Jesus, listen to Jesus, and love Jesus. That’s really what it’s all about.

RR: We need to realize our weakness. My wife reminded me of a saying of Benedict who said, “Always we start again,” and that’s real spirituality. Not that we have some kind of flawless life but it’s that we’re frail, weak human beings who fall down and Jesus picks us up again. Even in the house church movement we have wonderful leaders, and we all know their names, but we don’t need heroes – and I know them, and they don’t want to be the heroes – they want to see Jesus exalted in the Body of Christ.

KG: That’s my prayer too. It reminds me of the phrase, “Conversatio Morem” which is a Latin phrase that means “constant conversion” which means that we need to be constantly converted to Christ, constantly sacrificed on the cross, and daily surrendered to Jesus.

RR: Yeah, we need to remember that we’re all weak. We’re quirky. We need to allow ourselves to be ourselves and be ok with we’re not all the same.

KG: I think that’s what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 12 about how we’re all different members of the Body with different strengths and weaknesses. It’s not true that the church would be a better place if everyone were just like me. The truth is that if everyone in the Church were just like me we’d be in a very bad place.

RR: (laughs) You’re heart and my heart are aligned. I want us to break away from some of our cultural tendencies that keep us from looking True North, because Jesus is our True North.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Raising Up Leaders in House Church

Over the last few years I've been corresponding with a brother in Christ, Vilbert Vallance, who lives in India. Recently he emailed me asking for help in raising up leaders within his house church family. As I was sharing it with him I thought it might be beneificial to others who might also want some advice about this.
Vilbert,
What I do in our group is to not do anything, or to do as little as possible. Really, the secret, if there is one, I'd say is to get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to do as much as possible. At first our house church always looked to me or to my wife to do everything - answer every Bible question, lead the communion, baptize the people, etc. So, sometimes I would just leave the room during prayer or after worship to let them figure things out together. Other times if someone asked me a question about the Bible I would lean back and say, "I don't know. What do you guys think?" and allow people to discuss this question without my interference. Sometimes I would ask another person, maybe even a child or a teenager, to lead us in communion, or to read a scripture to everyone. You can do this on the spot, or you can ask them ahead of time if they would do this when the time comes. That way you don't have to be the one to ask them but they will just do it because you've already asked them in advance. The hope being that, eventually, they will feel confident to read scriptures on their own and to take initiative when it's time for communion, or prayer, etc.
One thing that really helped our group in this respect is that we are a group of leaders. You may not have that in your group, I realize. If they are all mostly new christians then this will take more discipleship, but as they begin to grow in Christ you can begin to set them free and empower them to do more because they are all priests in God's Kingdom, just like you.
Maybe they don't know the Bible as much as you do, or have as much experience...but then how did you get your experience? Didn't someone allow you to lead? Didn't someone ask you to teach? These are the ways we raise up leaders, by allowing them to serve (not to lead). Because in the Kingdom of God the leaders are the servants of all.
If somone wants to be the leader (or the boss) then do not allow them to do this. If they want to serve, then let them do that because this is what a leader looks like in the Body of Christ. "The greatest among you is the servant of all," Jesus told us. So, everyone has the potential to be great in God's Kingdom because anyone and everyone can serve another person. It does not require skill or wisdom, only humility and love.
Another thing we did in our group was to start meeting in other homes besides ours. This allowed people to take ownership of the church and to see that there was nothing special about my house. Any house can be special because God's people meet there. Even if we meet under a tree, it does not matter. After awhile I would sometimes not even show up to those meetings outside of my house so that they could also learn that they do not need me to have fellowship or to "be the Church". They really don't need me (or you) they just need Jesus and each other. Maybe down the road you can do this with your group as they grow in Christ?
Does any of this help you? Please let me know if I'm not answering your question properly. I do want to help you grow leaders in your group.
Blessings to you as you serve the Lord and His Church.
Peace,
kg

**
You can learn many more practical things about house church at MOMENTUM 2012 on March 30 and 31. This practical and interactive gathering will feature plenty of dialog, discussion and hands-on experience with organic church dynamics. Our event will include insights from practitioners like Neil Cole, Ross Rohde, Bill Faris, Ken Eastburn, Joe Chebat, Jeanne O'Hair, Bob Sears and myself. Scott Underwood will lead us in worship. Hope you can be there!
MORE INFO AND REGISTRATION > 

KNOCK, KNOCK


I wrote in my last blog about how I spent a few months seeking after God and finding only empty silence. Now I realize that this only fueled my hunger for more of Jesus. It confounded me and made me think even more about how much I needed Jesus to come to me.

Not only that, but this was actually in direct response to my prayer months earlier that Jesus was increase my hunger for more of Him. I asked Him to make me more hungry for hunger, and to make me thirsty for more thirst.  This, I see now, is exactly what He did.

During this time I also felt called to go and re-read the words of Jesus to His Churches in the book of John’s Revelation. Here I noticed something that applies both to me and to the Church as a whole.

Speaking to the church in Laodicea, Jesus says that they are lukewarm and because of this He is about to spit them out of His mouth. Most of us remember this passage because of the implications it has for any of us who begin to grow cold in our relationship with Jesus. Bringing it closer to home, it is a warning for all of us to take care of our love for Jesus. Our relationship is more important than anything else in our lives. Without Jesus we have no hope, no life, no power, no purpose, no vision. We have nothing without Jesus.
 
But look at what else Jesus says to this church:

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (v. 17-18)

As a people, as churches, we can become very independent. We can reach a level of self-reliance that separates us from Jesus. We don’t need Jesus to teach the Bible. We don’t need Jesus to worship. We don’t need Jesus to plan our Christmas pageant. Of course, it would be nice to have him along, but if He didn’t show up we could still pull everything off. But, obviously, church – or life – without Jesus isn’t life at all. It’s an illusion. It’s empty. It’s dead.

What we need to do is to realize that we are actually desperately hopeless without Jesus. We need to have eyes to see how poor we really are. This means our power, our experience, our resources, our ability, our reputation, is worthless. It is not our strength, instead it is actually what we need to be rid of so that Jesus can clothe us in His own power and life and Spirit.

Notice the last part of this passage where Jesus says:

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (v. 19-20)

Jesus affirms His love for us, even in our arrogance and pride, His love for us is the same.  His love calls us to repentance. He stands outside His own church and asks kindly, humbly, to be allowed back inside. He even knocks. (Who knocks before they enter a church?) Jesus asks to be asked to re-enter His own home. If we do ask Him to come inside and if we make Him again the King we adore He will restore us to fellowship and commune with us as He did before. Like nothing ever happened. Then He says:

"To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” – (v. 21- 22)

He’s already looking forward to that day when His church in Laodicea wakes up and invites Him to be their Lord again. He’s even willing to scoot over on His throne and make room for us to sit with Him on the throne that the Father gave to Him after enduring the cross of shame. He’s making room for us – His children – to sit next to Him for eternity.

What amazing love! What astounding grace! Our Lord Jesus, even in His rebuke is gracious, and forgiving, and optimistic about our response.

Don’t let Him down. Turn, seek Him, listen for His still small voice, and invite Him into His home again. It’s where He longs to be. It’s where you long for Him to return again.

Wait a minute. Did you hear a knock at the door?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

CONSTANTLY CRUCIFIED


My recent epiphany has come as the result of reading the book, Viral Jesus, by Ross Rohde. It made me realize how weak my faith had become lately. It brought me both a vision for what could be and condemnation for what I have been lacking in my walk with Jesus.

In response, God spoke to me through one of the letters of Fenelon in the book, Let Go, (which seems to have been written specifically for me). Here’s what I read the other day:

“Do not be like a person I just met a short time ago, who, after reading the life of one of the saints, was so angry about his own life in comparison that he completely gave up the idea of living a devoted Christian life. I know this will not be true of you.” (pg. 26)

So, in one book Jesus revealed to me how far I had fallen, but in another book he encouraged me not to give up hope.

What I’ve also realized in this process is that the areas of my life where I have failed to live out my calling as a follower of Christ are all due to the same failure to die to myself. I can vividly recall moments where I have allowed my fear of man to keep me from speaking the truth. I can remember the conversations where I held back the name of Jesus in order to protect my own reputation. I can replay the scene in my mind – over and over again – when I let an opportunity to share my faith in Christ slip away because I was not ready to suffer persecution for my faith.

In each of those moments, scenes and conversations what I lacked was a willingness to die, even a little bit, so that Christ could live in me. My cross was somewhere under my desk at work, or in the backseat of my car in the parking lot.

Suddenly I am aware that death to self is more practical and tangible than I imagined. Being thought of as “the Christian nut” by my coworkers is the fruit of embracing my own cross. Having people mock me for being “Joe Christian” is what it costs to follow my Jesus with everything I have. Suffering the contempt of my unsaved friends is necessary to the process of dying to myself. It’s also what makes it possible for the Gospel to impact the world I live in – and to impact my life as well.

Unless I die to my flesh, I cannot fully experience the resurrection life of Christ within me.

The real truth. The very shameful and painful and embarrassing part of it, is that I have loved myself, my status, my reputation, more than I have loved my friends and my coworkers. That is my own sin. That is what drives the nails deeper into my heart. I am horrible and selfish. I am the monster that needs to die. Let me crucify that worthless creature of arrogance and pride. I want those nails to pierce this flesh. I need to let this dark person taste the metallic flavor of death on his tongue.

Only Jesus can drive those nails. As much as I long to dance on the grave of this selfish bastard, I love myself too much to do the deed myself. So, please, Lord Jesus, make me to lie down on this rugged cross. Bind my wrists to this cruel beam. Press the tip of that iron nail into my hand. Lift that hammer, Lord Jesus. Drive it deep. Deep enough that it won’t come loose again tomorrow.

I need your life, Lord Jesus. I need to know the power of your resurrection by sharing in your sufferings. I need this constant, daily, crucifixion if I am ever to reach the end of this road and look up into your wonderful face. Only then may I lay down this cross of death. Only then may I lay it aside and rest in your comforting arms.

Until then, I pray, let me be constantly crucified and surrendered to your perfect will.

Let your Kingdom come, Lord Jesus.

-kg

Monday, March 05, 2012

FIRST LOVE


“Do not be overly concerned about your defects. Instead concentrate on having an unceasing love for Jesus, and you shall be much forgiven, because you have loved much. (Luke 7:47). However, we need to be aware of the tendency to seek the good of feelings and selfish thrills of love (which are the by-products of love) instead of love itself. We can so easily deceive ourselves on this matter. We can concentrate so much on love that we miss the point entirely…But when we are concerned with the constant assurance of His love, we are still in a measure busy with self.” – Fenelon, Let Go, Letter 13, pg. 25



Over the last several months I’ve been trying to draw near to God. I’ve awakened early in the morning, spent time alone in the dark on my knees trying to hear His voice, or sitting in silence, or crying out to Him, but none of that seemed to matter. I heard nothing. I felt nothing. God, it seemed, was not interested.

Eventually, I stopped getting up early. I rolled over in my bed and whispered a sentence of prayer softly into my pillow before drifting back into sleep. It seemed to make no difference if I spent 30 minutes on my knees or two minutes curled under the covers.

What I missed was something so obvious, so simple, and yet blindness does that to you, doesn’t it? It prevents you from seeing what’s right in front of you.

I was coming to God for a feeling or a blessing. God wanted me to come to Him because of my love for Him.

There’s a big difference between loving someone for what they can do for you and loving them “just because”. True love is its own reward. True love does not need to be fed with anything more than love itself. True love is satisfied with itself, and nothing more.

I had forgotten my first love.

In Revelations, Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus and says,

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” (ch 2:2-3)


As wonderful as all of that sounds, what Jesus says next is heart-breaking:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (v.4)

Somehow, as they were working hard and persevering, as they were exercising discernment and rooting out false apostles, as they were enduring hardships for the sake of Christ, they had forgotten to love Jesus with all their heart.

I find myself sitting in the church of Ephesus. Those words of Jesus echo in my ears as well. “You have forsaken your first love, Keith.”

So, now when I draw to my knees it’s not to receive a blessing. It’s not to hear some pearl of wisdom. It’s not to feel the tingle of the Spirit’s presence. It’s simply to sit at the feet of my precious Jesus. To sit in silence if that’s what He wants. To pour out my heart to Him if that’s what He wants. To experience His touch, if that’s what He wants. But above all, to come to Jesus because He is Jesus.
Because that is enough.

He is more than enough.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Desperation


As I’ve been reading through Ross Rohde’s book, Viral Jesus, the last few weeks I’ve been both inspired and humiliated. Inspired, because the book is packed with story after story of how real Jesus is and how often he shows himself to those who are seeking him in everyday situations. Humiliated, because I realize that I have been so oblivious to this reality for so long now that I have become numb to the voice of God and the power of His Spirit within me.

So, what do I do? I am balanced on the precipice looking down a sheer drop into despair at the enormity of my failure. How could I be so foolish? How could I become so blind? My faith, for so long, has been slowly draining away until it seems now there is little left within me to even take a breath. My fear of man has paralyzed me somehow. I have forgotten that to die to myself I must suffer first the death of my reputation among men. I have tried to carry my cross when no one is looking, and this has made my cross a little bit lighter, a little less painful to my flesh. Maybe now it’s not even a cross at all? Maybe it has become an exercise in religious pride, or worse, hypocrisy?

This is why I cannot read much more than a page or two of this book without closing it shut and bowing my head to contemplate the glorious power of God and, at the same time, my own sins of compromise and self-deception.

While I could easily spend my time wallowing in the depths, and believe me, I am very tempted to do just that, I remember something wonderful. I remember that I’ve always known what a loser I am. It comes as no surprise to me that I am foolish and prideful and weak. This is who I am, inside and out. I admit it freely. So what? This is what Jesus came to fix. This is who He died for. This is what He lives to make right. This is why I came to Him in the first place, because I was so completely aware of my own desperate condition without Him.

This week as I shared this with our house church family at the Mission, my wife read from Philippians 2:13-14 where Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of (knowing Christ). But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

The good news? God gives us the opportunity to start over. Once we realize where have gotten off track, we can stop where we are, confess our mistake, turn around and start off in the right direction again. Like Paul, we can “forget what is behind” and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called (us).”

So, today I draw a line in the sand. This is the starting line. I am off now in the right direction. Jesus has given me a clean slate. He loves to make all things new.


“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)